One of the more common heartaches people express to me is that their adult children no longer attend Mass or have any relationship with the Church. Many of these parents sent their children to Catholic School and brought them to Mass every week. Yet despite these efforts, many of these young adults were drawn away from the Church by the lure of the secular world, often during their college years or shortly thereafter.
It was typically not some dramatic event or one particular teaching that caused them to leave the Church; they just drifted away. Perhaps it was that going to college or graduating meant that they moved out of familiar patterns. Perhaps it was a new schedule or the need to work on Sundays. But regardless of the reason, they started skipping Mass. One week missed led to several weeks, then months, and then years. And so they drifted, with the currents of the world, away from the Church and the Sacraments.
During the years away, they may have found “reasons” that they don’t like the Church or feel connected to her. Perhaps they disagree with a certain teaching or practice. But the initial problem was more likely just a drifting of sorts, which then became alienation fueled by a world hostile to our teachings.
So what are parents to do? Nagging can be counterproductive. Admonitions that the Church considers missing Mass a mortal sin (and we do) seem too self-referential to many college graduates, who were raised in a culture that insists on the right of every individual to craft a “god” on his own terms (we used to call that idolatry). For most moderns, the right to craft a “god of my own understanding” or to discover the “god within” is indisputable.
Even to many who still have some semblance of faith, sectarian religion and dogmas are anathema, considered too rigid. It is axiomatic for many who call themselves “spiritual” to think that they have a perfect right to craft their own god and their own truth in their own way.
But this is the only world that most young adults have ever known. They never experienced the era of denominations and of high Church attendance that some of us older folks did. Quoting Scripture and the Catechism to them has little impact. Speaking of rules or commandments is often dismissed as scolding and being unkind.
So again, what are parents to do? I wrote earlier this week about using the Socratic Method, and surely that is a good model. It relies on posing questions that seek to engage the person to explore some of his own premises. For example a parent might ask, “Why don’t you go to Church?” Suppose the response is, “I just don’t get anything out of it” One might then ask, “What do you want to get out of it? What are you looking for?” Or one could follow up by asking, “What do you think the purpose of Mass or going to Church is? How do you see it?” And one continues along these lines, keeping sermonizing to a minimum. One listens, but seeks to engage the adult child in exploring his own views to determine if they are valid.
Thanks be to God, a new and thorough treatment of how to get your children back to the Church has just been published by Brandon Vogt: Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to Church. It examines all the usual scenarios, from drifters to dissenters, from the disaffected to the merely disconnected. There are print, online, and video components to assist in developing a “game plan” that may need to extend over a long period of time.
At the heart of the parents’ “game plan” must surely be their own witness of what going to Mass, receiving the Sacraments, praying, and Christian fellowship have done for them. So in his book, Brandon helps parents to clarify and craft their own witness. He also helps prepare them to respond to some of the more common reasons people provide for having left the Church and the practice of the faith. He discusses the twenty biggest objections to Catholicism. In effect, he advises the parents to stop pushing and start drawing their adult children back to Mass.
I hope you will find the book (and other resources) as encouraging and helpful as I did. Most of us who are trying to draw others back to the Church need a long-term game plan. We need to be prepared for a long, patient, and respectful conversation that speaks the truth in love and witnesses to the beauty of the Catholic faith. I think the resources that Brandon has assembled are a great gift to the Church.